Four school pupils from Falkirk will be saying ‘nin hao’ to a gap year with a difference.
While their former classmates and friends enter the workplace or continue their education, the sixth year students will spend a year in China, learning Mandarin and seeing a new culture.
Sara Cassidy from Falkirk High and Gao Toole, Nicola Ferguson and Gregor McIntyre, all from Larbert High, have won scholarships to study in Tianjin starting next September.
With only 16 places available for the whole of Scotland, competition was tough.
All four are learning Mandarin at Confucius Hub classes at Bo’ness Academy and impressed the selection panel with their language skills.
Sara (17), from Reddingmuirhead, already has unconditional offers to study international business and modern language at Edinburgh and Strathclyde Universities when she returns from the Far East. She thinks studying in China will open doors.
The school captain said: “China is becoming one of the most powerful countries in the world and many businesses look for applicants to speak Madarin.
“It is a really difficult language to learn, it’s all about tones on words and one word can have four or more meanings depending on how it’s pronounced. I think submerging ourselves in the culture will be the best way to learn it.”
The students will be staying in university halls of residence and all classes will be in Mandarin, the most widely spoken language in the world.
Former Larbert pupil Connor Cloughley is currently on the course after winning a scholarship last year and has been filling in this year’s winners on what to expect.
Gao (17) from Larbert, hopes to become an international events planner after university.
Gao said: “Connor is having a great time and we all catch up with what he is doing on Facebook.
“He has warned us the course is tough and it’s hard being away from your family for so long but that it is the best way to learn Mandarin.”
The pupils will socialise with other students, do some travelling and even stay with a Chinese family during their year long trip to get an insight into how local people live.
The busy academic schedule means it’s unlikely they will be able to get home during the year but hope their families will be able to visit them.
Language whizz Gregor McIntyre from Stenhousemuir is studying for a baccalaureate in modern languages as well as Advanced Highers in Spanish and German and has a Higher in French. He hopes to become a translator or interpreter.
He said: “Chinese is one of the most in-demand languages for an interpreter so I’m really happy to have won a place.”
Nicola, from Stenhousemuir, who is interested in teaching English as a second language, said: “My dad gets teary every time he thinks about me going - Gregor and I will still only be 17 when we go - but he knows it’s an amazing opportunity.
“We’ll be immersed in the culture and it will be a life experience.”
Councillor Alan Nimmo, education portfolio holder with Falkirk Council, said: “There are only 16 scholarships so a quarter of all spaces have been won by Falkirk pupils.
“This is testament to how good our schools are, we were one of the first councils to introduce Chinese language courses and it’s paying dividends for Falkirk school pupils.”